Historical fiction novel, by Dimitris Apergis. Exclusively at the blog of OKYPUS in 36 weekly episodes, in English and Greek languages.
Synopsis: London, 1824. The boss of London's Crime Syndicate, Wilbur Barnaby, assigns two men to travel to the -revolting against the Ottomans- country of Greece and locate the renowned poet Lord Byron in order to obtain a gambling debt of his to the underworld. One of the two men is Welsh Bugs Hamhaduke, the so-called "neckwringer." The other is the enigmatic Lord Greywood. The two men will embark on an adventurous journey to the Greek city of Missolonghi via Paris. None of those involved, however, is aware of Lord Greywood's terrible secret: That he actually belongs to the Order of Strigoi Morti, the oldest and most dangerous generation of vampires.
ISBN : 978-618-00-1549-2
PRELUDE : Guilá Naquitz (1 chapter)
PART ONE : London (4 chapters)
PART TWO : Paris (10 chapters)
PART THREE : Vampires (10 chapters)
PART FOUR : Missolonghi (10 chapters)
EPILOGUE : Los Angeles (1 chapter)
[ep. 29 of 36]
PART FOUR : Missolonghi
The news of Lord Greywood's coming spread like a wildfire in Missolonghi and - needless to say - most of the Missolonghians accepted the event with great joy, especially as they learned about the piasters that the Lord would bring with him. Many even viewed him as a "national benefactor", giving him honorary titles even higher than those of the late Lord Byron. Jakob Meyer was also notified in his Hellenic Chronicles print shop about the Lord's desire not to publicise his stay in the city, and Meyer in turn obeyed and did not mention a word in the newspaper about the esteemed visitor.
Lord Greywood arrived at the shore of the Karangeleika on a Thursday's night in May. There he was greeted by a reception committee along with a large crowd of citizens. They were holding in their hands lit torches that made the night look like noon. As Captain-Apostolis' boat reached the shore and the tall, tailcoated figure of Lord Greywood jumped out of it, the crowd applauded enthusiastically and the musicians received the inaugural signal and began to blow their big bagpipes made of sheepskin, and the night at the spot was sweetly characterised by smiles and melodies and full moon.
Lord Greywood was extremely gracious to the public who welcomed him cheerfully. He was greeting everybody with warm handshakes. Some elderlies bent over to kiss his hand but he politely prevented them from doing so. The cheers of the crowd became louder and a few gunshots sounded when two young Missolonghian warriors lifted the piasters' chest out of the boat and carried it to the entrance of the city.
Eighteen-year-old Elias, who had a bit of education in the English language, was appointed by the host committee to consult with the Lord and to give him the salute. With eyes shining of youth, Elias stood before Lord Greywood, dressed in his good colourful vest and long pleated fustanella. He took the fez with the black tassel off his head, and began to speak in his truncated English:
"Hello master Lord Greywood sir... and welcome to our city... We are extremely honoured... to have you... as our guest."
“There's no need to speak to me in English. I am totally familiar with the Greek language. Thank you for accepting me." the Lord interrupted him in fluent Greek, and a stunned exclamation of surprise sounded from everyone's mouths, so thunderous that the music from the bagpipes stopped at once and absolute silence prevailed in the place.
Looking at the awestruck expressions of the inhabitants, the Lord allowed a faint smile on his lips. It was that fleeting moment when the Lord was struck by beauty, beauty of nature, beauty of space-time. The people before him were the fierce fighters who did not yield to the hordes of the Turks, the briny lagoon soughed its ripples on the shore, the air smelled of gunpowder and iodine, the moon gleamed its perfect circle in the starry night, hope flamed immortal and raging in her flares. That moment was a gem that remained untouched and untarnished by the incessant flux of the world, a clay jar that stubbornly refused to break by the violent changes in weather, a distant poplar waving its shadow upon unrefined nothingness.
"And now I'd like you to take me to my hostel. I had a tiring trip and I wish to rest. We shall have plenty of time to get acquainted with each other. Thank you for this adorable reception." said Lord Greywood.
Elias accompanied the Lord to Barbagrivas' tavern that was in the town square and had upstairs rooms that served as hostels. The crowd followed the Lord Elias from behind like a procession. Upon arriving at the tavern, Barbagrivas hastened to welcome the Lord with his coarse "welkam" which he had learned rather arduously about an hour earlier. But he too stood with his mouth wide open when the Lord greeted him in fluent Greek.
The constructions and furniture in Barbagrivas' tavern were made of mulberry tree, taken from fishing boats that were either rotting or crashed. That's why the interior's atmosphere bore the mixed smell of sea and alcohol. The cumbersome wine barrels were aligned in a row and the brick walls kept the area cool during the summers and warm during winters.
Barbagrivas led the Lord upstairs climbing the inner wooden staircase which had its handrail glazed, like the glazed bench of glasses and bottles. As he went up the stairs, Barbagrivas was punting and puffing from his sixty years of age and from the hundred kilos of his volume.
The room arranged for the Lord was small and humble, as requested. A small window with boarded shutters that did not allow light to come in, a single bed with a thick blanket, an oil lamp on the small bedside table, a thin multicoloured rag on the wooden floor, a pitcher with water and a tub, wefts hanging on the walls to distract the eye and mitigate the claustrophobic aura of the room.
"It's wonderful. Thank you. Thank you very much. Good night." said Lord Greywood with satisfaction, and Barbagrivas gave a broad smile and returned down to the tavern.
"You reckon he's Greek and he's kidding us?" said Barbagrivas to his wife, impressed by the Lord's impeccable Greek accent.
The eccentric routine of Lord Greywood did not take long to be felt in Missolonghi's closed society, and soon the murmurs and gossip among the inhabitants heated up. That which caused the greatest curiosity in the Lord's behaviour was the mystery of his disappearances during daylight. Where the hell did the man go until sunset? So Barbargivas' wife was commissioned to learn the Lord's secret routes. She tried everything from staying awake all night long outside the door of his room to even searching his personal belongings. But no matter how much the poor woman tried, he didn't manage to find something out.
Of course the pitiable people could not imagine that during the day the Lord was transformed into a bat and fell asleep in the old cemetery of Missolonghi - the cemetery of Saint Lazaros that had been cordoned off beyond the ashes during the sieges- settled in a marbled tomb. But this secrecy on behalf of the Lord began to cause a headache to Rajikotsikas, who had shouldered the burden of responsibility for Missolonghi's safety. As the brouhaha in the city soared to alarming levels, Rajikotsikas took the initiative to invite the Lord to his house for a cup coffee and a bit of social chat.
The Lord accepted the invitation, and as he went there, Rajikotsikas took him and locked himself with him in a spacious lounge surrounded by five other Missolonghian guards who were constantly groping their pistols with their fingertips. The Lord, of course, faced the situation with extreme calmness and, having his coffee with Rajikotsikas, settled the various issues that arose with his visit and assured all bystanders that his presence in Missolonghi did not loom any dangers for the city. Rajikotsikas was finally convinced of the Lord's straightforwardness and prudence, and the meeting of the two men did not last more than an hour.
However, it is all too obvious that the Lord was forced to lie to Rajikotsikas. So he justified himself by claiming that he is an aspiring writer and that his engagement with writing required those enigmatic seclusions during the sunshine, away from people and their curiosity. Rajikotsikas, despite his boorish nature, was a relatively educated man and therefore accepted the Lord's explanations with sympathy.
In order to dispel the people's suspicion off himself, the Lord began to spend his evenings in Barbagriva's tavern, amongst the elders of the city. The tavern was the place where everyone had a right to an opinion and each opinion had its own weight. It was not always characterised by discussions of the patrons, the tavern. Many times it was plunged into its long silences in which the old men simply smoked their pipes looking at each other from a distance, each lost in his own thoughts. The smoke from the tobacco was sometimes so dense in the atmosphere that one could only discern the figure of Mrs Barbagrivas sliding back and forth under the hanging oil-lamps serving the wine glasses on the tables. At those times, Barbagrivas had to leave his bench and open the shutters to let some fresh air in.
It was customary for the eldest of the tavern to sit each one on the tables next to the walls. Thus, they formed a circle that resembled an amphitheatre and each threw his own word from his own seat whenever deemed necessary. This amphitheatric patent invented by the elders inside the tavern would certainly enjoy the envy of the Senate of Ancient Rome itself. So the Lord, abiding to the senate mentality, was taking his own table by the wall and he was trying to contribute in his own way to the (mostly political) discussions of the patrons.
At first the old men treated him with uncomfortable cautiousness, and for this reason in his presence they remained immersed in their silence for long periods of time. They would certainly stand up and salute him with respect when he showed up in their purlieu, as did all the people of Missolonghi with him. But beyond that, they avoided exchanging chats with each other while he was present.
Eighteen-year-old Elias proved to be a true "Deus Ex Machina" in this regard as he used to associate with the Lord frequently because of his excellent education. So Elias sat at the Lord's table giving to the crowd his guarantee for the mysterious visitor. There came the time when the old men finally gained their courage, and the discussions began to ignite. And Barbagrivas' tavern became a true parliament, with majorities and minorities, with disputes, with backlashes and with skirmishes.
Like that time when the Lord raised the issue of the English loan given to the Greeks. It was a sensitive issue, the loan. Once it was put forth for debate, the entourage hyped up as the demons strode from the bowels of the earth to the tavern and nudged the elders from under their fustanellas.
“The English are dishonest people. With all due respect, Milord." said one patron chewing nervously his long pipe.
"It is better to become a nation on our own, rather than by moneychangers and foreign loans." said another twisting his crook in his hands.
“How can we become a nation without money? The people give us their help, we receive help. It's the English that bother you?" said another combing his moustache with his fingertips.
Upon witnessing the upheaval he caused with his mention about the loan, the Lord had nothing more to do in this instance than to ask for more information. This is because all he knew about the matter came from that acrimonious columnist of the Evening Gazette. And, moreover, it is well known that in taverns and coffee shops one often learns the true History.
"But you got the money, didn't you? Eight hundred thousand pounds. Not quite an ungenerous amount, let me observe." said Lord Greywood.
"The loan was usurious, Milord." jumped in Elias, and the elders silenced themselves to hear the intelligent young man. "The eight hundred thousand never came into the hands of the Greek Administration. The loan was agreed at 59% of the nominal value, namely £ 472,000. From that amount were withheld interest payments, debits, commissions and many other expenses that only bankers can conjure. The amount finally received by the Administration was about £300,000, and the guarantee for the repayment of the loan was the Greek estates and all public revenue."
"I see." replied the Lord.
The old men were shut once more in their silence. Until an old man took the initiative to philosophise on the matter:
"Hellas…! Upon this shit-rock that's called Earth and sails ungoverned into the vast universe, God painted a stroke of sun and sea and beautiful nature. And there came the people who nestled on the stroke and baptised it as Hellas and they baptised themselves as Hellenes. And they thought of this piece of land as their own, but how naive they were! Everybody wants their own part of this place, and the Hellenes are constantly striving to maintain their property and keep the marauders away. Because, Milord, Hellas is on the best spot of the universe and the marauders are anything but dumb and they look to profiteer of this chaos that regulates the universe, claiming fiercely and unequivocally that in this world where everything flows and nothing retains its existence nobody can be regarded as owner and nothing can be considered as property. So the marauders each assumed his own dung-cesspit on planet Earth and from his own sconce he looks at how to become a master in our place. Forgive the dirty language, Milord. But how can one philosophise if he doesn't swear a little bit?"
The old men were shut once more in their silence. One took the shoes off his feet and admired his white woollen socks, the other was reading the front page of the Hellenic Chronicles under the light of the oil-lamp, the other was blowing his nose into his pleated fustanella, another was watering the wine in his cup, another was sucking bulimically the last puffs of tobacco left in his pipe.
"Well, what are the English supposed to do anyway, comrades? Give us their money for free? They should make something out of it, shouldn't they? Everything in this world gets done for profit." jumped an old man, and then the others seized upon it and the debate re-ignited.
This is how the assemblies of the Senate were held in Barbagrivas' tavern. At times they were fired up with voices and arguments, and at times they were abated into long silences.
Everyone had an opinion and everybody expressed it in their own way, and in many cases even competed with one another in imposition. Everyone was talking except one. Only Father Lambros remained contemplative, under the large oil painting depicting fishing boats in the Missolonghian lagoon at dawn, uninvolved in the senate's discussions, silently counting the rosary beads in his hand.
No one could guess where his mind was musing, and no one could adjudge whether Father Lambros smiled or frowned every so often as his face was buried under the long white beard. And no one could see where Father Lambros was focusing his stare upon as his eyes disappeared under those dense white eyebrows.
For one thing, there was no doubt about Father Lambros' behaviour. As long as the Lord was in the tavern amongst the elders, not a word came out of his mouth. As if the old man had realised something that the others had not even suspected. Even Lord Greywood felt awe at these incessant silences of the priest and he was secretly scrutinising him many times in order to obtain some clue. Until the Lord finally began to suspect that Father Lambros might have known the truth about himself: that he was a vampire.
The Lord did not err in his suspicions.
This was proven one night when the Lord was invited to a youth feast in Plevronas, in a wine inn near the ancient theatre. That was a majestic night, and the Lord and his young companionship drank and had fun to their hearts' content. They then ascended the hill where the ancient theatre stood and sat on its carved rocks and gazed from above the Missolonghian lagoon and the crescent moon's silver coating upon its calm surface. The youths joked and flirted among themselves, but the Lord had let himself to the sweet nocturnes that the cormorants echoed with their hoarse screeches.
That night, as the Lord returned to the city centre walking the narrow roads between the low houses and the blossomed locust trees, he happened upon Father Lambros who was walking towards the opposite direction. As Father Lambros was always frowned under his dense eyebrows, the Lord could not ascertain whether the elder had seen him or if he was as lost in his thoughts as he seemed.
One thing was certain however. That golden cross hanging from the priest's throat and beaming its venomous glow into the darkness threw the Lord straight into deep vertigo, such that it made him stagger briefly and rest his body on a brick wall to recover his senses. But Father Lambros was approaching undeterred towards him, and the cross was constantly sucking the supernatural powers of the vampire until the Lord had now become pallid in face and was about to fall to the ground. It was only his dignity that held him upright or prevented him from running away without giving any explanation.
Father Lambros had already neared him enough when he gave him a fleeting glance at a slight sway of his eyebrow. Upon ascertaining the Lord's martyrdom, Father Lambros grabbed the cross with his hand and hid it in the folds of his black robe. And after he did so, he continued on his way without saying anything or addressing the Lord until the darkness of the night swallowed him up.
There was no longer any doubt. Father Lambros knew.
[to be continued next Friday, 31 July 2020, exclusively at the blog of OKYPUS]
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A few words about the author
Dimitris Apergis was born in Larisa, Greece, in 1978. He graduated in BA (Hons) Film Studies in the UK. He lives in Greece.
His books are published in both English and Greek languages, by the OKYPUS PUBLISHING. https://en.okypus.com/okypus-publisher
Dimitris Apergis has received several awards for his literary work.
In 2018 he received the First Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his novel Gerard & the father. Additionally, in 2018 his novel Gerard & the father also received the First Literature Award at the 8th International Literature Contest held by E.P.O.C. (Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus) under the aegis of UNESCO.
In 2017 his novel ‘At the Whiskey County’ received the First Literature Award at the 7th International Literature Contest held by the Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus under the aegis of UNESCO.
In 2015 his novella ‘Jazz Room’ received the Second Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers.
In 2013 he received a Praise from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his short story Labyrinth.
In 2012 he received the First Literature Award from the MONITOR Press for his short story Acid Rain.